…and then on to Mauritius

After my stay in Madagascar, I moved on to its neighboring island of Mauritius. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to visit a grocery store. It’s really interesting to see what is locally-stocked, whether it’s a different region in the US or a foreign country. I always try the local cuisine, but I also like to shop and cook a meal or two. Last year in Bali, I bought a variety of fresh produce, spices, and freshly-made tempeh (fermented soybean cakes) at a local market in Ubud and took it with me to the coast where I cooked up a typical Balinese meal. It worked out well because the beach areas are much more resorty-type areas, so the restaurant options were limited and pricey.

In addition to trying out new foods, shopping and cooking is a nice break from eating out. I tend to travel for extended periods of time and get a bit tired of eating in restaurants and whatever portable food I have stashed in my backpack. Another plus is that it’s easier to satisfy my food preferences. I love to cook, so I get to try things that might not be on a menu (especially in countries catering specifically to Western tourists). Even when Michael and I travel in the US, we often stay at places with at least partial kitchens where we can eat at a meal or two after stopping at the local markets. For some, cooking during a vacation might not seem like a vacation, but in my opinion it’s worth the trade-off.

A unique fruit (or vegetable?) that’s a cross between a pepper and an apple

On my recent trip to Mauritius, the two places I stayed both had fully-stocked kitchens. It was a nice option after eating out for 2 1/2 weeks in Madagascar. I got to try two different varieties of vegan faux-meats (Schnitzel patties and sausages). Since fish is so important to island countries, I also found a wide variety of analog seafood and tried the vegan lobster. I chose this because I noticed from the first to the second time I was in the supermarket that the stock had reasonably dwindled, which I took to mean it tasted pretty good, and it actually did.

It’s been ages since I’ve eaten lobster, so I can’t guarantee it’s a good imitation, but it was certainly an enjoyable vegan substitute.

I was wishing I had some vegan mayo to make a lobster salad, but alas, that was not something I found. I tried girumon squash that I’d never had before, which was much creamier than firm after baking. I also got to try some veggie dumplings that were quite tasty (and which were a carbohydrate indulgence, but I realized I’d gone two days without a real meal).

My dumpling indulgence

Something I’ve found to be both interesting and consistent when shopping for produce in developing countries is the size of the vegetables and particularly the fruit. Much of the produce marketed in the US and Western Europe comes from larger, agribusiness production that has worked to maximize the yield per acre. Developing countries don’t have the same level of access to technology and inputs, so that produce tends to look closer to something that comes out of a garden. I’m always taken aback when I walk into not just a local weekly produce market, but even a supermarket in a place like Madagascar or Mauritius and see shelves and displays of what I’d consider single-serving size fruit like apples and oranges versus what seem to be verging-on-softball size equivalents at home.

Weekly market with ‘normal’ produce

Of course one of the best parts of traveling to tropical areas is the fresh fruit. Rather than being picked green to ship, await quarantine clearance, then be transported and stocked in the grocery store, eating tree-ripened papaya, guava, or passion fruit is a very different experience in the tropics .

Passion fruit

And I’ve had the opportunity every time I’ve traveled to Africa or Asia to try something unique to these places that, due to lack of international demand/recognition and/or is highly perishable, I wouldn’t have the chance to try otherwise. Most recently, I got to try sweet apple (it’s nothing like an apple, actually), fresh Mauritian olives, and something I didn’t even get an English or French name for, since my hosts only knew the Creole name. It was a cross between a sweet pepper and a tart apple.

Sweet apple

I also got to have a typical lunch. After a trip to the local weekly market for produce with a former student, I was kindly received into his home for lunch with his family.

My gracious host and me enjoying fresh coconut milk

Dhal puri is a yellow-lentil pancake filled with a variety of beans, sauces, chilis, and pickles, and folded sort of like a burrito. Even though each filling has a fairly intense flavor, they come together into a very satisfying combination.

Dhal puri

My favorite thing I tried was achard fruit de cythère pickle. It’s not of the fermented sort like sauerkraut or, well, what we call pickles, but rather Indian-style with fruit and/or vegetables mixed in a ground spice paste. I saw it in the produce section of the store and it resembled tapenade. I thought I’d like it, but I wanted to know what it was, so I asked a fellow local shopper who explained it was ‘little mangos’ in a spicy mix that would be used as a condiment, but not mixed into a dish. At my last grocery stop, I found it jarred and bought some to bring home, but I was sadly (but not too surprisingly) disappointed that it didn’t taste as good. Since I’ve never seen fruit de cythere in any store (even the amazing international food emporium of Jungle Jim’s), I’ll have to settle for the jarred variety since I can’t make it myself.

My very satisfying meal, including the amazing achard on the tiny plate

Even though I generally stick to my usual dietary choices when I travel, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to try something new, even if it means more calories or carbohydrates than usual, though there are two compromises I don’t make. I only eat vegan food and I only buy ethically-sourced chocolate (or else I suffer and go without it if I exhausted my emergency travel supply. After one time where I experienced a stretch without it, I got much better on subsequent trips of learning to ration). Even with these self-imposed restrictions, I don’t feel like I’ve missed the opportunity to experience local cuisines and a variety of unique food products.


A Work in Progress

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I wrote this post around the same time as My Enemy: The Scale. A few months ago I’d been feeling kind of full at the end of the day. I think it was more the result of making sure I have enough protein in my diet, which has been a bit more challenging since I cut back on beans with the low-carbohydrate regiment. I had to integrate more tofu, tempeh, and analog meat to match what I’d gotten in a low-fat diet, but those are my less-favorite food choices. (I wish I liked smoothies so I could just add protein powder.) Instead, I’m quite content with my scrappy little Boca burger (with 13 grams of protein and only 70 calories!) and vegetable soup for lunch,  with a salad and huge plate of vegetables for dinner. But alas, our bodies need protein for loads of functions, ranging from reduced healing time to growing healthy nails.

Happily, my favorite Peanut Butter Cup Bars have 9 grams of protein each (based on 16 squares per recipe).

On the one hand, protein is great because it is very filling and has a longer digestion time. On the other hand, those same qualities make me feel too full, even though I haven’t ingested more calories. I’d much rather eat the roasted artichoke hearts and shirataki noodles on my plate than faux meatballs. They were usually what was left after I finished the ‘good’ stuff and I felt satisfied, so I ended up feeling like I was eating more than I needed.

As a result, upping the non-bean protein content in my diet left me feeling fuller after dinner. I hated it because sometimes I like dessert, I definitely need two or three squares of chocolate ‘for my health’, and I really look forward to having an evening snack, usually tiny bowls of 11 Newman’s protein pretzels and about ½- ¾ ounce of Wise potato chips (the best potato chips ever!).

My go to chocolate: It’s fair trade, inexpensive, readily available, and it’s even got protein!

I realized that while I was aware of how I was feeling, I ignored it just so I could have dessert and/or an evening snack. The problem was that I went to bed feeling more full than usual and woke up not really feeling hungry. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster, tempting me to skip breakfast because I’m not hungry, potentially setting me up for eating more throughout the rest of the day since I didn’t eat those breakfast calories. (Meanwhile, I would eat twice as much, thinking I was only making up for breakfast.)

As I recently mentioned in To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast, it’s psychologically important for me to know I have the option of eating an evening treat. Feeling like I have to forgo it makes me feel resentful and is more likely to lead to unchecked late-night binging. To cope with this, I’ve worked on integrating more protein into earlier meals, and even my afternoon snack, so I feel less full from that protein hit at dinner. I also cut back on my evening snack so that while I continue to give myself that option, I try to eat only as much as I think will satisfy me instead of what I’ve come to think of as my ‘allotted’ amount. These small changes have left me feeling much better in the morning, waking up hungry and wanting breakfast.

My lifestyle change continues to be a work in progress. I didn’t really consider the effects of changing out beans for other plant-based proteins. Instead, I was operating under an outdated regimen. Once I realized this, I was able to tweak it to feel better. I need to remind myself to not get stuck in a rut because a lifestyle change is not a one-off thing.


My Enemy: The Scale

Despite having maintained a healthy weight for 15 years, I still dread the scale. Decades of experiences conditioned me to fear the scale. There was the humiliating annual school health-check weigh-ins in front of classmates. When I was a teenager and went to a dietician, there were trips through the hospital’s kitchen for weigh-ins on the delivery scale which registered up to a ton, because the dietician’s office didn’t have a scale that registered beyond 299 pounds. To add insult to injury, everyone in the kitchen was snickering, knowing where the dietician was leading me and why.

Meet the Evil Scale, My Archnemesis

Then there was the time after high school that I tried a weight-loss program which involved buying pre-packaged, pre-portioned foods. It was an expensive commitment, but I was enthusiastic to lose weight and for the first month, was successful, just as they promised. I dropped around 20 pounds–about 5 pounds a week–which was great. However, no one–including myself–could tell I had lost weight. Plus, I was starving all the time because I was on a 1,200 calorie diet. I finally caved and just pigged out for one whole weekend. When I bashfully showed up at my next appointment for the dreaded weigh-in, I’d gained 16 pounds. I’ll never forget hearing my counselor not quite surreptitiously enough expressing her astonishment that I could gain that much weight in a week.

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What Works for You?

In a sort of continuation of To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast, I uncovered studies that found evidence both for and against any benefit of eating breakfast. Not surprisingly, attempting to identify the best diet plan has proven similarly inconclusive. A group of researchers decided to compare several diets that were popular in 2000 to see which was more effective. Another study looked at the Atkins Diet and found that its effectiveness dropped precipitously after the first six months. Like the effects of breakfasting or not, their main finding was that no one diet proved better than any other, but that the biggest hurdle people encountered in attempting to lose weight was sticking with the diet to reach a healthy weight.

Opting for a regimen that banned chocolate for me would be over before I even made it through the first week, I’m sure.

Ultimately, the only important factor in choosing a food plan is that you can stick to it, as I discussed in Start Now! Commit to a lifestyle change by choosing a plan that you can realistically stick to and work to implement dietary changes you can live with in the long-run, or you’ll continue to be on the-feeling-like-you-need-to-lose-weight treadmill indefinitely. A lot of people go into weight loss thinking in terms of a diet as a one-off thing, which, as the above research confirms, most likely will result in failure.

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To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast

When and how often people eat meals is actually influenced by their culture. In Mediterranean countries are known for long, leisurely, filling lunches followed by some down time. This approach is very different from that in the U.S. and U.K. where dinner is typically the largest, most involved meal of the day, while lunch may be eaten at a desk. In Indonesia, it’s common for the main meal to be breakfast, with subsequent left-overs consumed throughout the day. In a variety of countries around the world, people eat just two meals–some due to lack of food, but more often just out of custom.

A very typical Malaysia breakfast of noodles and vegetables

So is breakfast worth all the hype or not? It seems like very few things in the world are definitive: Is (fill in the blank) good or bad for us? Breakfast is no exception. The adage that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is ingrained in most Americans. It kick-starts the body’s metabolism and offers fuel for the brain. A study by the American Heart Association on the impact of when and how often we eat cited numerous studies that link obesity and/or higher body fat mass to skipping breakfast. Other research, like one out of Canada and another out of the U.K., found that skipping breakfast did not have much of an overall impact on determining health. Some go so far as to argue that not only breakfast, but the whole three square meals a day regimen is not only unnecessary, but undermines our health (see Fasting is Great, Unless You have Food Issues http://cantquitfood.com/2016/08/30/fasting). As with most research on health, so many variables come into play that it is difficult to offer blanket recommendations.

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A Low Day

I woke up feeling low this morning, for no particular reason I could identify. And despite my best efforts to change my mood, the dark cloud hung over me all day even while the sun was shining. I even took a walk with Michael and Gus puppy (who is now 5/6ths, i.e. 10 months old) but couldn’t snap out of it. These are some of the worst days to fight off unnecessary and unwanted eating.

Gus does not have food issues. Except for his rare ‘hungry day’, most days he doesn’t even finish one bowl-let alone his recommended two-a day.

I found myself reaching for my computer chocolate stash at 11 am (a.k.a. my grading fuel/reward), but managed to dissuade myself and instead have two strawberry IceBreaker mints. Lunch was as usual, but by 4 pm, I found myself wandering through the kitchen looking for a diversion. The worst part was that I was entirely aware of why I was grazing for something, acknowledged that I wasn’t even hungry, and yet there I was, deciding what to eat.

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Where to Next?

Greetings from the other side of Spring Break…and the end of the semester. After a variety of events- being afflicted with some very persistent sinus germs, a wonderful and much needed vacation in South Beach, the flu, writing a conference paper, going to a conference in Chicago, the end of the semester, and setting up a course that begins on Monday-my blog posts were regularly back-burnered.

I know that my readers have really valued my contributions thus far. Many of you have expressed how useful the tips were, how supportive my experiences and advice have been, and how enjoyable the recipes I post are. When I started the blog, I envisioned it as a place where I could share how I not only lost a lot of weight, but especially how I’ve been able to maintain a healthier lifestyle.


Wine tasting in Tuscany after a 3-hour country ramble

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It’s Valentine’s Day, so Eat Chocolate!

Much to my delight, I unexpectedly discovered a chocolate cooking course when I was in Peru. We made chocolate from scratch, as the ancient Incans would have done.
First step: Roast the cocoa beans.

If you really love your Valentine, you’ll skip the candy hearts and go straight for the chocolate: Dark chocolate, that is. I’m not sure why scientists decided to research potential health benefits of chocolate, but I’m sure glad they did! Lots of studies have found that the flavonoids in cocoa beans do all sorts of amazing things.

Step 2: Shell the outer layer from the cocoa nib.

Dark chocolate’s properties promote heart health by increasing oxidation to stop plaque from lining artery walls and also lower blood pressure. They help to repair damaged cell membranes and aid in fighting off free radicals that damage cell tissue. And if you’re worried about the fat in cocoa butter, it’s been found to have a neutral effect on bad v. good cholesterol levels.

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Skip the Entreé

One of the biggest challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is managing the seemingly constant barrage of food images tempting and encouraging us to indulge.  “Eat me!” they scream at us, enticing us with gooey cheese dripping off of a slice of pizza, chocolate drizzled over a perfect slice of cheesecake, and every salt crystal glistening on a golden-brown soft pretzel. Watching T.V. or movies requires navigating a minefield of product placement to resist caving. Indeed, during my lifestyle change, I cut back considerably on T.V.–especially shows on the Food Network–because I found myself craving so much of what I saw on the screen, even though I wasn’t hungry.

So what happens when you go to a restaurant and the visual stimulation of people’s food and menu pictures are coupled with the aroma of food? Stepping into a restaurant immediately sets us up to fail, with enormous portions, multiple course offerings, and complimentary foods like tortilla chips and bread. To survive, it’s important to have a strategy upon entering restaurant, as I discussed in My First Restaurant Visit.

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Setting Goals

The benefits of planning and setting goals are well known. People are more likely to achieve reasonable goals by setting objectives than by saying they want to accomplish something without setting a plan of action. Use this same advice to develop a lifestyle change plan.

The key to achieving an objective is twofold. First, identify what you’d like to accomplish and set a realistic time-frame to achieve it. That’s the easy part. The second piece of the puzzle is to figure out how to do it.

Is your goal to eat less junk food? If so, it’s useful to know what triggers you to turn to junk food. For this issue, it’s helpful to keep a food diary to track when you eat it and briefly note how you’re feeling at the time. This strategy will reveal patterns of behavior that you might be unaware of that you can then address.

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